Run to feel? The great watch debate!

Published 8th April 2021 by mymo

Recently, we saw an Instagram post from an elite runner of an old-fashioned Casio stopwatch proudly displaying a Time Trial result and it opened some discussion around firstly the benefits of a stopwatch over something more complicated and expensive, and secondly how often we go running without a watch at all.

How often do you hear the phrase ‘Run to feel’? Do you know what that means for you? A run to feel should never be dictated by what a watch is feeding back to you and often that’s a trap we fall into. Think back to the last time you ran without a watch - how did that feel? For some runners it can feel like a comfort blanket, monitoring every step and feeding back as often as we want it to.

Stopwatch v GPS

Particularly in racing, GPS can be affected by large numbers of people and satellite reception can be lost or confused when running in and out of tunnels or around large buildings. If you have ever run in London, you will know this is definitely an issue! A stopwatch type negates this issue completely as it’s just keeping track of how long you’re running and nothing else. In races or on familiar routes, you will have an idea of the distance you have run so other feedback may not be needed. That said, a stopwatch is far less sophisticated than a GPS watch in a number of ways!

Why do we love our watches?

We are a generation of runners who love a bit of feedback! Watches have become so sophisticated that they can tell us not just how far and fast we went but how well we slept, what our V02 max is, what we might aim towards as a target race time, how many miles we have run in a particular time frame or even in a certain pair of shoes. Linking a watch to an online platform also gives us the potential for team support, kudos and a big hit of dopamine in the form of praise from a friend or stranger.

Running with a watch might encourage us to slow down when we are supposed to be running easy, or tell us to go faster when we want to push it. Watches can store music, routes and tell us when we are hitting a target weekly or monthly mileage. Many runners reported to us that they only ever take their GPS watch off when it needs to be charged!

Our GPS watches can be a great motivator to get running, commit to a challenge, stick to a pace or to keep moving.

How can this be a bad thing?

Firstly, running should be the ultimate freedom and escape! It can be liberating to leave all technology behind and embrace the natural movement of running as far and as fast as we feel like with no report afterward (or during!)

There may be times you feel tied to what your watch is telling you to do. Many watches have a feedback function to report on your fitness which might lead you to over train or run when you really want to rest. You might choose to run, or to run faster, when you should be backing off with a niggle or an injury. They can become addictive for some people especially to those who get a kick from feedback from other runners linked up online.

Running should always be a positive in your life and if you feel your watch is holding you back in some ways, try a run without it and see how you feel! You might be about to discover a new way to enjoy your running.


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